Free food and drink continue for Arkansas legislators through ethics amendment loophole | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Free food and drink continue for Arkansas legislators through ethics amendment loophole

Posted By on Tue, Dec 9, 2014 at 8:59 AM

click to enlarge WOO PIG: A new ethics amendment hasn't put a crimp in free hog slopping for legislators.
  • WOO PIG: A new ethics amendment hasn't put a crimp in free hog slopping for legislators.
Amendment 3, which has taken effect, prohibits gifts of any sort by lobbyists or from someone who employs or contracts with a lobbyist.

So, a tipster says, a prominent lobbying firm threw a steak-and-shrimp feed at the Capitol Hill building for legislators last night. I'm inquiring, but I'd be curious to know how they managed it. Last minute invite to all members of a committee, with the knowledge ( previously supplied to the right people) that only certain legislators would be on hand?

I'm checking. But if anyone has further details, I'd appreciate them.

Light bulb: Maybe the lobbyists slopped new members in town to learn their way around. See, they are not legislators yet.

UPDATE: The hog slopping was paid for by the Mullenix lobbying firm, one of the leaders of the opposition to the ethics amendment. They invited the entire General Assembly, in town for orientation for the next session.

But whoa, that ain't all. The legislators, ethics or no ethics, are getting slopped at breakfast, lunch and dinner at a round-robin of free feeds thrown by various special interest groups all this week. I'm rounding up a list.

The public isn't invited. Lobbyists are buttonholing lawmakers over fine food and drinks as always. Legislators are grateful for the free swill, as always. Such favors will be remembered.

This is likely legal under the part of the amendment that says an exception is:

Food or drink available at a planned activity to which a specific governmental body is invited;

I won't look back to my writing at the time to give you the many links that said repeatedly that this would be a loophole big enough to drive the whole legislature through. Get out of the way. A semi-truck loaded with steaks and booze is bearing down on the Arkansas legislature this week. And presumably every night of the session in the weeks ahead.

Please remember this when the legislators try to maintain currently corrupt expense practices along with fat pay increases from the new "independent citizens commission" controlled by elected officials who'll benefit from the pay raises.

A source says in describing the week long hog fete: "This is how it has always been done." Indeed. As if that's an excuse.

Julie Mullenix of the lobbying firm that presided last night responds to my inquiry:

Please refer to the language of Issue 3. The Attorney General provided an opinion in response to a request by Speaker Davy Carter related to the meal events planned during House freshman orientation this week that indicates these events fall within the scope of the gift exception in the new constitutional amendment.
Thanks for your inquiry,

Legal maybe. But I think it's bad form to keep partying like this amendment never happened. Legislators could say no thanks. They don't, because they think it's their due. Remember this when the pay commission goes to work.

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